I am what people would consider a “perfectionist.” I can remember getting a 99 on a math test in 8th grade and immediately feeling a pit in my stomach. You couldn’t convince me that wasn’t a letdown.
This pressure has always been self-inflicted. It’s the source of both my greatest achievements as well as my most persistent anxieties.
It was this need to be perfect — this unshakable desire to make my parents and my peers proud, despite their insisting that they already were — that used to keep me up at night, staring at the ceiling, contemplating how my life would change when I finally revealed the one secret that had been festering in my mind for years. The secret that, instead of fading with time, had forced its way deeper into my thoughts and feelings with each passing day.
Will they still love me? Will they still be proud? Will they still want to be my friend?
I asked myself these questions again and again.
What will change when I tell them that I think I am gay?
For years, I was able to bury these incessant questions by throwing myself into my sport. When I was on the field, and only when I was on the field, I could quiet the voice in my head. Then the questions surrounding my identity and how it might damage my closest relationships would disappear. On the field, I was a soccer player. And I was only a soccer player.
Rather than reflect on who I was, I thought about ways to train and which college I should play for. But once I was settled at Penn State University, I found myself with more time on my own and more individual freedom. I could no longer perpetually ignore my internal confusions by being entirely consumed with something else, and so I finally allowed myself the space to explore my sexuality.
By sophomore year, I had my first steady relationship. I tried to keep it quiet, but — as many of you know — there’s no hiding things from your team. I realized that despite my best efforts, they’d find out eventually. I knew I had to tell them first.
I remember sitting one of my teammates down and, my voice shaking, finally confessing my innermost secret.
“Okay, so you’re gay,” she blankly replied. “What do you want to do for lunch?”
I couldn’t have been more relieved. What I considered this huge secret, this monumental revelation, didn’t change our relationship at all. And as the rest of my teammates found out, not one of them judged me, shunned me, or looked at me any differently. They didn’t care.
It was this initial relief that gave me the courage to officially come out to my older brother Kevin. Sitting on an old couch in the living room of my college house, I wiped the sweat off my palms and took out my phone. Struggling through trembling fingers, I typed, “Hey” into the message field and sent it to him.
“Hey,” he replied.
“I’ve got something to tell you,” I wrote, working up the courage to type those words that I’d held close for so long.
“Oh yeah?” he inquired.
“I think I’m gay.”
“I’m gay,” I wrote, as my heart leapt from my chest.
I watched the three bubbles bob as he typed, my stomach churning with each passing moment. And then, it appeared. Kevin replied,
“I’m so proud of you. You’re always going to be my little sister. I don’t care who you love, I will always love you.”
After coming out to Kevin and receiving his support, I felt liberated to tell the rest of my family. I also started to open up with my friends and teammates about my relationship and my life in general. All my fears, constant companions for so many years, were proven inconsequential. My family, my friends, my teammates: they didn’t care who I loved, as long as I was happy.
Soccer went from being my escape to becoming an incredible support system. By finally letting myself be vulnerable, by sharing the parts of myself I’d previously kept hidden, fearing they were “too different” to share, I was able to connect with my friends and teammates on a deeper level.
As I sit here now reflecting on my own story and all of the twists and turns that have led me to this point, I can’t help but feel grateful. I grew up with an extremely loving and supportive family that molded me into the person and athlete I am today. Their love, along with the support of the soccer community, has helped me realize that of all the successes a person can achieve, the greatest is being proud of exactly who they are.
Even though I’ve only just scratched the surface of my self-understanding, I’ve learned that what was truly bothering me wasn’t being gay. It was the uncertainty surrounding it all. I was worried that being gay was an imperfection. I was worried that being gay would let other people down. But when I was consumed by these concerns regarding other people’s opinions of me, I was worried about things that were simply out of my control.
Now, instead of focusing on the different ways outsiders may perceive me, I reflect on all of the people in my life that love and support me unconditionally. I focus on treating others with respect, and I trust that the values of decency and kindness form the only compass I truly need.
So, what changed when I came out to my family and friends?
Nothing, or almost nothing. My family still loved me, and my friends were still my friends. None of our relationships were any different. Only my own self-perception was transformed: I discovered more confidence, insight, and perspective than I could have ever hoped for.